A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN
"Alyosha!" Anyuta called softly.
From Meresyev's couch came the sound of regular
breathing. The airman was asleep. The girl rose from her
bed, stepped softly with her bare feet to his couch,
straightened his pillow and tucked his blanket around him
as if he were a child.
Meresyev was the first to be called in by the commis-
sion. The huge, flabby Army Surgeon First Rank, who
had at last returned from his mission, again presided. He
recognised Alexei at once, and even rose from behind the
table to welcome him.
uThey won't^ accept you^eh?" he said in a kindly, sym-
pathetic tone. "Yes, yours is a hard case. You have to get
round the law, and that's not an easy thing to do."
The commission did not trouble to examine Alexei. The
Army Surgeon wrote across his application in red pencil:
"Personnel Department. Deem it possible to send applicant
to training school for trial." With this paper Alexei went
straight off to the Chief of the Personnel Department.
He was not allowed to see the general. Alexei was about
to flare up, but the general's adjutant, a dapper young
captain with a little black moustache, had such a cheerful,
kindly, friendly face that although he never could stand
"guardian angels", as he called adjutants, Alexei sat
down at his desk and, to his own surprise, told the captain
his story in all its details. The story was often interrupted
by telephone calls, every now and again the captain got
up and disappeared into his chief's office, but every time
he came back he sat down opposite Alexei and, peering at
him with his naive, childish eyes which expressed both
curiosity and admiration, and also distrust, said hurry-
"Well, go on, what happened after that?" Or suddenly
he would interrupt the story with the exclamations: "Is
that true? Are you serious? Well, well!"
When Alexei told him about his wanderings from office
to office, the captain, who in spite of his youthful appear-
ance seemed to be well versed in the intricacies of the
official machine, exclaimed angrily: